3 fantastic Hindu temples to visit outside of India
With epic and storied mythologies, colourful pantheon of deities, and complex morality tales, the Hindu religion is an engaging subject of study, whether or not one is of the faith. The iconography has found itself to architecture, art and pop culture around the world, and for those who travel with an interest in religious cultures, a trip to a Hindu temple is always an enriching experience. While the obvious choice for those looking to do this is to take a trip to India, South East Asia has some truly spectacular locations that merit a visit. This month, we explore three must-see temples.
Hinduism came to Cambodia during the beginning of the Kingdom of Funan. It was one of the Khmer Empire's official religions. Cambodia is the home of the holy temple of Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple in the world, encompassing an area of 162.6 hectares of land. Orginally, this stunning temple complex was built and dedicated to the worship of Vishnu, although in subsequent years it also functioned as a Buddhist temple when the official religion changed. The changeover is visible in the remains of the temple complex as one sees evidence of Hindu and Buddhist iconography layered over one another in years of attempts to switch back and forth. The intricate 3D wall carvings make for hours of fascinating exploration, and the long corridors and hallways and short flights of stairs to each level make a trip to this World Heritage site quite the physical experience.
The best view of the temple complex is at dawn, seen across from the lily pond in front of the entrance.
In 1498, Dang Hyang Nirartha, a high priest from the Majapahit Kingdom in East Java travelled to Bali to spread Hinduism. He arrived at the gorgeous island and established a site honouring the sea god, Baruna. He faced fierce opposition from the village chief who soon gathered his loyal followers to dispel Nirartha.
Legend has it that the priest resisted by pushing a large rock he meditated upon, out to sea while transforming his sashes into sea snakes to guard at its base. The rock’s original name, Tengah Lod, means ‘in the sea’. Awed by Nirartha’s magical powers, the humbled chief vowed allegiance.
Incredible foundation myths aside, this picturesque temple perched on an outcropping of rock, surrounded by restless waves is one of Bali’s biggest attractions, not least because the setting makes for the best selfies. The onshore site of the Tanah Lot temple complex houses smaller shrines together with restaurants, shops and a cultural park where regular dance performances are shown regularly.
The Batu Caves is a limestone hill that houses a system of caves, which have been transformed into a Tamil temple complex dedicated to Lord Murugan.
While the limestone that forms the caves is said to be 400 million years old, the temples inside the caves were built around the 1890’s. Rising almost 100 m above the ground, the temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a very high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors must climb a steep flight of 272 steps.
At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa in 2008. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan's victory over the demon Soorapadman. The Ramayana Cave is situated to the extreme left as one faces the sheer wall of the hill. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, there is a 15 m (50 ft) tall statue of Hanuman and a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, devotee and aide of Lord Rama.
The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of the Ramayana, told through colourful sculptures lining the irregular walls of the cave.
A 42.7-metre (140 ft) high statue of Lord Murugan was unveiled in January 2006, having taken 3 years to construct. It is the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world.